New phase for Anders Utrecht
Contemporary societal challenges such as climate change, social inequality and the COVID-19 pandemic, call for new forms of cooperation between the university, citizens and associations facing them. Sharing local knowledge about the challenges is crucial, also for the academic world. Anders Utrecht, a project of researchers at Utrecht University, was established to stimulate this kind of sharing knowledge.
Since November 2020, it has, among other things, mapped Utrecht's initiatives that address social and sustainability issues, developed a podcast to voice them, and worked on the establishment of a long-term cooperation, through workshops and research. After one and a half years, a new phase has now begun, in which students will also play a role.
There is now a fertile soil that requires care and attention, says Ozan Alakavuklar,
we are in a new exciting phase. In our master's programme Organising Social Impact, we will be working closely with some of the members of the Anders Utrecht network. In addition, the contribution of scientists from Utrecht University will focus more on their expertise, which they will share in workshops. Depending on the needs of the members, we are for instance considering a series of joint learning events, based on strategy development and policy evaluations. Through the Anders Utrecht network we have built a knowledge base on our website and now we are moving towards deeper relationships with certain members. This is the future.
Anders Utrecht network
By now, 15 local organisations have joined the project. The Anders Utrecht network consists of a mix of formal associations, social enterprises, citizens' movements and neighbourhood initiatives. The issues the network members are involved with, are also very diverse. These range from food waste to the reception of undocumented migrants. Network members include for instance food collective VOKO, art institute CASCO and Repair Café Oost, a place where Utrechters can have their belongings repaired. These initiatives each tackle societal challenges at the local level in their own way, striving for a just, ecological and sustainable society.
An informative podcast
Together with the local organisations, Anders Utrecht developed a podcast series, giving initiatives a voice and creating a platform for sharing experiences. The podcast gives initiatives the opportunity to talk to each other and with academics, and to develop a common vision and approach to societal issues.
A total of seven episodes have been published, in which two organisations from the network talk to a researcher each time. Each episode deals with a theme of great societal importance. They discuss food, art and culture, social inclusion, climate change, the natural environment and social change in relation to sustainability.
Aiming to stimulate long-term cooperation, Anders Utrecht organises workshops for network members. Between February 2021 and May 2022 four workshops have already been organised.
Cooperation for sustainable cities
In November 2021, for example, there was a workshop about the relationship between city residents and the university, which focused on how cooperation for sustainable cities can be supported. For this workshop, Anders Utrecht collaborated with Open City Network and Citizen Engagement and Urban Sustainability (CITEUS), both supported by the Transforming Cities Hub of Utrecht University. In this workshop, participants explored the role of the university in societal transformations. This included questions about aligning agendas of various parties, such as researchers, citizen activists, entrepreneurs and policy makers, supporting long-term collaboration between academic and non-academic stakeholders, and the need for leaders in such collaborative projects.
Social media and online communication
In May 2022, Anders Utrecht organised a workshop on social media and online communication. Many local organisations appeared to be struggling with issues concerning their social media use. They appeared to have a shared interest in a workshop in which participants could learn more about how local organisations can maintain their online presence in the most effective way and how social media channels can be used to reach out to different target groups.
Research and the role of students
Besides organising workshops, Anders Utrecht also supports network members with practice-based research. Winnie Ruizendaal, for example, a Master's student in Public Administration and Organisation Science, based her thesis on research into the 'Bringing culture to people' project plan of association and network member Dwarsverband. The thesis explores how diversity is attributed meaning in the voluntary sector and also contributes to the scientific debate on diversity. In addition, it provides practical recommendations for strengthening diversity in the self-management initiatives of Dwarsverband.
A second study is already underway, this time for network member Villa Vrede. Anders Utrecht facilitates the evaluation of their programme 'Project aan de slag,' which aims to 'activate' undocumented migrants while they are staying in one of the country's immigration housing services. This involves courses, trainings, internships or volunteering. The research project will also explore ways to provide a 'sustainable perspective' for undocumented migrants.
Such research, focused on impact in society, will increase with the start of the new Master's programme Organising Social Impact.
Students will not only collect data, they will actively contribute to the activities of the organisations that generate social impact.
As part of our new Master's programme, which starts in September, we will bring organisations and students together in a more structured way, from the beginning of the semester, Alakavuklar continues.
They will not only collect data, but will also actively contribute to the activities of the organisations that generate social impact. We see this as an innovative attempt to bring theory and practice together. The students, as researchers, will spend more time in the organisations and will have the opportunity to notice the challenges, tensions and contradictions that organisations face - and derive a esearch topic from that.
Building the Anders Utrecht network was a real learning experience for us as researchers. Finding alternative ways to build network relationships was a continuous process of trial and error, but in a good way. You have ideas, you go out into the field, encounter new challenges with these organisations, revise your plans, your strategy - and you constantly learn new things from each other along the way.
Active exchange of knowledge between university and city
Not only the university can learn from the experiences of local organisations, but the network reinforces everyone involved. In that respect, initiatives such like Anders Utrecht are ideal for promoting mutual learning. By building a network, Anders Utrecht brings together various organisations that would otherwise not cross paths. These range from formal associations and social enterprises to citizens' movements and neighbourhood initiatives. Linking up such initiatives creates opportunities to make connections and discover productive ways of cooperation.
The Anders Utrecht project shows that there is a need for active knowledge exchange between the university and the city. The university is just one source of knowledge, among many others. To promote social and ecological transitions, we need to become aware of the profound knowledge that is already present in the city and use it to the full. This is only possible through a more structural cooperation and exchange of knowledge between the citizens, organisations, initiatives and scientists involved.
The team of researchers from Utrecht University involved in this project are: Ozan Alakavuklar, Marie Sijbers, Belle Tonk, Yousra Rahmouni Elidrissi, Patrizia Zanoni, (Utrecht University School of Governance), Giuseppe Feola (Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development) and Dan Hassler-Forest (Department of Media and Cultural Studies).